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Episode 5: Rethinking the Future of Work


In this episode, host Chris Thornton welcomes back Daggerwing Group Senior Principal, Michelle Mahony. Together they discuss how COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have transformed the world as we know it – causing organizations to change at a truly unprecedented rate. They dive into detail on the four external drivers that we believe are shaping the world of work and the five focus areas for leaders as they rethink the future of work. For more information about our Rethinking the Future of Work offering and for our webinar series, click here.


This transcript was automatically generated with artificial intelligence. It’s in the queue to go through a review with human eyes!

00;00;00;00 – 00;00;28;27

Welcome to Change@Work. Today’s guest is Michelle Mahony. Michelle. Welcome back. Thank you so much, Chris. It’s great to be back. Yeah. You know, you and I have tried to record this. This is our fourth time. Several times. Yes. Which is a testament, right, to how much the world is changing day by day.

00;00;28;27 – 00;00;55;00

Yeah. And as the world continues to change and major events happen, we say, well, we have to rerecord and share this. So let’s time stamp this one. We’re recording this the toward the end of June, and the world is going to continue to change. But in what’s happened over the last 100 days has been pretty incredible. Any reflections from you about what you’ve seen happen over the last 100 days?

00;00;55;02 – 00;01;27;11

I mean, I could join in with the rest of the world in my reflections that we have been talking a lot about what the future of work looks like and rethinking the future of work in the context of COVID. Our whole thesis being that work is changing, that the future is here and we are not going back. You and I recorded that conversation, and then the Black Lives Matter movement hit big time and over the last several weeks it’s historical in and of itself.

00;01;27;19 – 00;01;53;03

And suddenly the context for what we were talking about seemed very outdated. So yeah, and a little bit tone deaf if we were just going to drop it without that context as well. So so here we are back again. Absolutely. As listeners are hearing what we recorded before, what would you encourage them to keep in mind thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement and what it means toward building momentum in the future?

00;01;53;06 – 00;02;19;13

I think that what we talked about, you know, still holds true in the context of COVID and in the context of the world. Right now. What I think the big miss is now that the Black Lives Matter movement has come to the forefront along with COVID. You know, we talk a little bit later about how leaders need to shift in terms of how they lead in the future and the context of the future of work.

00;02;19;15 – 00;02;46;25

You know, a big miss Now, looking back on it, is that we did not talk about inclusivity, and that is clearly rising to the forefront. And that is going to, you know, be be a top priority for leadership as we go forward. And we believe that, you know, operating with inclusivity, building a culture of inclusion is going to be here to stay and is going to be a priority for organizations going forward.

00;02;46;28 – 00;03;11;23

Thank you for that. Let’s let’s dip back in to the conversation we had just a couple of weeks ago. So you and I started thinking, what, like six weeks ago? What does the future of work look like? And at that point, it was all about how were people going to return safely to work? And it feels like companies are spending quite a bit of their time trying to figure out how to bring employees back.

00;03;11;23 – 00;03;36;22

Is that right? Yeah, that’s where it started, is, you know, companies starting to think about the what they’re calling it, reentry or return to work. And so we started thinking about, you know, and looking into more about what they were what they were doing. And I think from there, as you know, the conversation really started to evolve. And what struck me was when someone said to me, when I said, why are you going back to work?

00;03;36;26 – 00;04;00;18

And the person said to me, well, we’re trying to get back to normal. And you and I started talking that what’s normal and what is normal look like? Does normal even exist anymore? Like, I knew what that person was trying to say of we’re trying to get back to something familiar and how it used to be. And that will provide some level of comfort for people.

00;04;00;20 – 00;04;24;09

And then all of those. But what about started coming into the discussion? What about safety? What about the the demands of of my family at home? Can I go back to work? And then it evolved into something much deeper of. But the work that I used to do may have changed significantly, and it may have changed in a way that it’s never going to go back.

00;04;24;11 – 00;04;49;21

What are you seeing from companies about how they’re starting to evolve? Does anything stick out to you about how companies are starting to redefine how what the future of work looks like for them? Yeah, I think our first conundrum as we started to get look into this is this whole idea of back to work. It’s sort of a faulty or flawed terminology because, you know, what have the people been doing for the last two or three months?

00;04;49;21 – 00;05;13;12

If you are fortunate enough to still have a job and and be working? We’ve been working. We’ve been working much differently. And I think what we’re seeing with a lot of our clients and in the news, you know, seeing companies like Twitter say you, hey, you cannot work from home forever. From now on, we’re seeing our own clients, you know, tell, you know, almost to a fault.

00;05;13;12 – 00;05;34;20

All of them are telling employees, you don’t need to come back to work until you feel comfortable. Others are saying no one’s coming back to work in 2020. We’ll revisit this again in 2021. So those are some of the things we started seeing, the questions we started asking ourselves. But really, to even reframe, what does a return to work mean?

00;05;34;23 – 00;06;00;05

You sort of have to take a look at what’s happening in the whole world right now and these sort of seismic forces and drivers that are affecting the entire world, which thereby is going to impact organizations and what works, what work looks like in the future. So when we got to that, first of all, I know you can attest to this, we were quite overwhelmed when we came to that realization.

00;06;00;05 – 00;06;20;08

It’s like, Hey, we need to look at the whole world now. And it’s like, okay, but that’s really what we’ve started to do, is really dig in, look at these drivers, become like sponges and absorb what was happening in the world and then really begin to rethink, well, you know, okay, so what are the implications for for all of this?

00;06;20;08 – 00;06;43;14

And I think that started us on on this journey of really what we’re calling rethinking the future of work. Yeah. And moving from crisis into momentum. How do you propel yourself forward into what’s next? And one thing that stood out to me was all of the energy many of our clients are putting into figuring out how to bring people back safely.

00;06;43;14 – 00;07;06;15

All that energy of figuring out the challenges that are coming in every single day, but focusing well, focusing on the present is necessary and it’s vital. You absolutely have to do it. It can also be a trap because most of our clients are just trying to catch up with the daily demands, let alone setting aside time to look at what the future is.

00;07;06;15 – 00;07;31;14

And we think that’s where the energy absolutely has to go right now. Keep your people safe. Focus in on the demands of today, but make sure you’re spending time looking at the future. That’s right. It’s pretty impossible right now, I think, for a lot of organizations to be sort of lifting their heads out of the present. And of course, the absolute foundation has to be the physical and psychologic safety of employees.

00;07;31;18 – 00;07;55;09

That’s exactly what organizations should be focused on right now. But very, very soon these other questions are going to start emerging. And I think that the sooner organizations can sort of wrap their heads around the implications for work, the better off they’re going to be in in them recovering. I’m not going to say from this crisis because this I believe we’ve entered a new era.

00;07;55;09 – 00;08;21;15

And it’s, I think to call it the Covidien era. But I think this is a fundamental change in society, culture, global economy at large. And then, you know, by fact what an organization is, what it is here to do and what work looks like moving forward. Michel, one of the things you’ve talked about is how quickly things are changing for business leaders.

00;08;21;17 – 00;08;47;21

Yeah, that well, I think we can all relate to that, right? I, I was listening to a to a Gallup webinar the other day. They’ve done some really great research through this whole process of how organizations are reacting in real time, what’s happening in the larger economy. It’s been very informative, but one of the things they’ve done is they gathered a group of a few hundred chief h.r.

00;08;47;22 – 00;09;13;13

Executives in a roundtable to to have this discussion and they told the story of a woman who right before the the pandemic really hit, had gone to her ceo, presented him with a plan on making, i think, a virtual workforce transition. And she had a couple of other initiatives on her plan as well. And they both agreed, you know, this is a three year plan.

00;09;13;15 – 00;09;38;00

Well, fast forward pandemic hits, she said it was all done in three weeks, finished soup to nuts. So I think that is an indication pretty good. One of the speed of this this change. You know, companies have been talking about transformation and speed for a long time. This is already happening. So we’ve got to start rethinking the future of work now and how organizations will need to change.

00;09;38;01 – 00;10;01;07

We’ve talked about there are four drivers that organizations need to be focused in on in driving that change. The first one is organizations will be valued beyond shareholders. There’s a quote from Daniel Pink that really stood out to me. It says, If you’re a leader, the first line of your obituary may be how you responded to this crisis.

00;10;01;09 – 00;10;29;18

Yeah, that’s that’s pretty powerful. And let’s look back to last August, which feels like about 25 years ago. If you if you all I think our listeners, many of them remember there was a CEO roundtable at that time. They get together on a yearly basis. It’s a number of Fortune 500 CEOs and they all signed a pledge basically saying that company value was changing and can no longer be judged based on shareholder value alone.

00;10;29;23 – 00;10;52;11

That equal attention needs to be paid to other stakeholders, like your employees, like your consumers, like partners, and like the world at large. And and so there has to be almost like a balanced scorecard so that was really interesting. It made the front page of The New York Times. But there’s also a lot of skepticism. People were like, okay, great.

00;10;52;11 – 00;11;18;16

Well, let’s see them put their money where these companies put their money where their mouth is. Fast forward to now. There was another really interesting study that came out of Fleishman HILLARD back in March, right as this was happening. And what they found was that right now, the way that organizations are treating their employees is the number one driver of reputation among consumers right now.

00;11;18;23 – 00;11;51;08

So you have the whole world looking at how are you treating employees? Are you giving them more sick time? Are you protecting their employment? Are you providing for mental health and providing assistance? And all of these different ways? And even if you do lay off employees, how are you doing it? I think many of us saw that the news a couple of weeks ago where the Airbnb CEO had to lay off a big part of the 25% of of the company.

00;11;51;13 – 00;12;15;22

But the way that he did it was human, empathetic and supportive to the extent that, you know, he basically was widely given accolades for how he did it, knowing that it was a it was going to be impacting people’s lives and providing a lot of support for those folks. You know, as they were as they were being laid off.

00;12;15;25 – 00;12;46;11

And I think how organizations are acting right now and in a humanitarian, humane, transparent manner is really under a microscope right now. The second drivers, consumer behaviors are changing fast, Sometimes overnight. Some big stats out there that 65% of consumers are currently postponing purchases and travel 52% and ten changes to their buying behaviors to continue. That’s according to a similar study by Fleishman.

00;12;46;11 – 00;13;10;01

HILLARD So things are changing overnight. We’ve certainly seen the uptick in in buying groceries, more meals, in-home versus out of home. Michel, what’s your take on that? Yeah, last a couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a senior leader of of a client, you know, someone in the C-suite. This is a company that has been around for 100 years.

00;13;10;01 – 00;13;38;24

It is consumer focused. And he said to me, you know, Michel, I think we’ve always been a consumer first company, otherwise we wouldn’t have been successful. But that’s not going to be enough going forward. We need to be consumer obsessed. We need to not only be meeting the needs of the consumer now as they are changing radically, but we need to be so intimate with them and understand them so well that we need to be able to predict where they’re going to be going in the future.

00;13;38;24 – 00;14;13;09

And that requires a completely different set of capabilities. So yeah, yeah. And that has, you know, huge implications structurally for organizations from a cultural point of view. You know, that’s that’s in a in itself is pretty can be it will be pretty far reaching. You know I was talking with a client last week who said our data sets about about consumer behavior don’t hold necessarily right now and we can’t be predictive about what’s next because we haven’t done this before.

00;14;13;10 – 00;14;42;15

We haven’t seen this behavior for for consumers before. So how do you collect that knowledge about what you’re learning right now and then also anticipating what’s next and get back into anticipating that consumer obsession is more important than ever. The third driver is new capabilities, mindsets and cultures. Examples here from those siloed roles to a flexible workforce. Michel, I know you spoke with a client whose whole team was offered that chance to be flexible.

00;14;42;15 – 00;15;03;25

Can you talk about that? yes. This is a client who is in an essential business providing food for the world. And, you know, obviously from a manufacturing perspective, you know, those folks are working 24/7 to be able to deliver to the grocery shelves, which, you know, really fulfills their their purpose. And they take it very, very seriously.

00;15;03;27 – 00;15;28;02

So one of the things that they’ve done is for all their corporate offices that are closed, they are offering people the choice, an opportunity to come, to come, come help out in the manufacturing facilities, to help to help deliver the food to the shelves. So another example with another client is they were saying, you know what, this part of the business, you know, is not going to do well this year.

00;15;28;07 – 00;15;46;01

I think it’s delivering food to restaurants. They’re like that. That team can do whatever they want to do to try to make it better. We can get a little bit more of the market share, but, you know, they’re just not going to do well. So how can we redeploy that intelligence and that human capital and other places where we really need it in the business?

00;15;46;03 – 00;16;07;26

So I think that’s a new way, a shift and way of thinking that companies have been talking about for a while and you’re seeing it happen. And I think the overall this idea of agility, which is a word I can’t stand because it is so overused but really being called to play here, the organizations that are the most adaptable who are going to win.

00;16;07;28 – 00;16;42;05

To the point you made before, no one can predict the future. You know, another client scrapping their three year planning process this year. I mean, why bother? Why spend that time? So instead, they are focusing on navigating through this time of uncertainty. And, you know, another another cultural aspect we’re seeing emerge more than ever is you got to be a sponge right now to get through this and just be learning in real time and making decisions and pivoting in real time based on the information that you have.

00;16;42;10 – 00;17;09;11

And that’s another huge cultural change we’ve seen that is taking place almost overnight. We’ve also seen a client change their their behaviors, their cultural attributes, those things that they think are really important to drive success. The old behavior or attribute was focused in on on ability, being a top performer, being able to achieve, and they changed it to adaptability.

00;17;09;11 – 00;17;34;00

One of the words you mentioned earlier and they said it’s not so much about achievement. The rules have changed. We’ve got to rethink what success looks like and being a sponge, being able to learn and being able to adapt. That’s where we need you to focus. We think that that’s the type of thinking that organizations have to do more of what’s going to get us forward and move us forward and be been successful in the future.

00;17;34;02 – 00;18;01;12

The fourth driver is purpose has proven supremacy. So you talked about that Airbnb example earlier of what it looks like when you have to deliver difficult news in do it in a way that’s that’s directly connected to your purpose. Yes. This is Brian Chesky actually in the letter talks about reconnecting back to their original purpose of connecting people across the world.

00;18;01;12 – 00;18;33;00

I know I’m butchering it, but it is it is about human making, creating human connection. And that actually ended up guiding their business decisions to divest themselves or to to probably pull away with less focus on other industries that they’re in areas where they were trying to build out, like in the area of transportation or hotels. So by pulling back on those things to refocus on human connection, of course, that had the impact of of, you know, people losing their jobs.

00;18;33;07 – 00;19;02;24

But he also said, you know, the way that we are going to do this is is, you know, our purpose guides how we’re going forward with this separation as well. And then called upon people that were remaining and people, you know, that were just reading the letter to to to, for example, you know, he set up a website of alumni folks that are looking for jobs and so is trying to help them find new employment by leveraging current employees.

00;19;02;27 – 00;19;29;24

And, you know, the world the world at large. So this idea of really being true to a purpose, acting in with in alignment with the purpose is important. You know, going back to the food company, their purpose has been for 100 years, you know, making making food the world loves. And for temporary time, he, the CEO there, has changed his purpose to making food the world loves and needs.

00;19;29;27 – 00;19;52;27

And that is absolutely their true north that is guiding everything that they do right now to get the food back on on the shelves. So I could and I think we could cite a number of examples like this. But going back to that CEO roundtable, boy, if you’re not living up to that purpose and doing something good for the world right now and that’s not guiding you, that’s it’s good.

00;19;52;29 – 00;20;16;20

It’s going to create some trouble down the line. Yeah. Yeah. So those are the four drivers that we need to think about that are driving the change that we’re dealing with now. We think about what comes next and rethinking the future of work. Michel you’ve talked about not being able to predict the future so should organizations, should leaders just give up and hope for the best?

00;20;16;22 – 00;20;39;27

I hope not. I really do. You know, as we just talked about, like leaders are still have I mean, it’s a new world of decision making. They’re having to make the decisions differently based on what information they can get in the moment and based on not having, you know, the perfect information that in under other circumstances they might like to have.

00;20;40;02 – 00;21;16;03

So I you know, clients are talking about that really bringing that 8020 rule to life. And I think that’s even ambitious right now. So they have to be ready to act. And and also pivot as new information comes in. So when they’re thinking about, you know, well, what does all this stuff mean for organizations and for for work, I think there needs to be some conversations starting like, do does do we need office space in the future or what is office space for in the future based on what’s happening with the consumer?

More in the Series

Chris Thornton is a Senior Principal and member of the global leadership team at Daggerwing Group. In his role, Chris serves as a source of strategic counsel for Senior Executives with client firms, advising them on how to help clients achieve Executive alignment, transform their cultures and equip and enable people managers to lead and embed change. An expert in the people side of change with both client-side and consulting experience, Chris has worked with leading companies including Nestlé, Pfizer, and GE Aviation to do change right and make it stick. He is also an active speaker on business transformation, a driver of innovation in Daggerwing’s breadth of change consulting services, and the host of Daggerwing Group’s podcast, Change@Work. Chris and his wife were featured in the New York Times for their love of pie.
Michelle is the Managing Partner & President of Daggerwing Group, as well as a member of Daggerwing’s Executive Leadership Team. In her role, Michelle leads all global client relationships and delivery of Daggerwing’s consulting services to ensure change is done right the first time, and sticks. She also ensures that Daggerwing’s consulting leaders are effectively driving career growth for our consultants, continuously building capability and experience. Michelle’s breadth of expertise in the people side of change includes facilitating Executive Alignment on every type of organizational transformation, orchestrating enterprise-level culture shifts to deliver on a CEO’s strategy, and helping clients custom-create and bring to life their Future of Work strategies. Michelle is passionate about creating leaders and employees who are energized, rather than exhausted, by the opportunities change creates – ultimately helping clients succeed by fostering a culture that delivers the desired experience for customers and enables employees to thrive. In her private time, Michelle enjoys singing 70s pop songs badly while playing her ukulele, buying musty old records, and spending tons of time in the woods and on snowy mountains.